Capricon XV

Capricon XV was held on February 15-18, 1995, at the Wyndham Hamilton Hotel in Itasca, Illinois. The Wyndham is a distinctive hotel in which the floors are arranged around a roof-to-ground open atrium, so that you can stand on the balcony of the top floor and look down at the restaurant on the ground floor.

Capricon XV offerred a number of excellent activities and panels for writers. I helped with the Writers' Workshop, which was sponsored by fellow SF&FW member Lark Underwood. (In fact I wouldn't have gone to Capricon at all if it hadn't been for Lark asking me to help her with the Workshop. Author Guest of Honor Nancy Kress was our guest speaker in the Saturday session, which was a panel discussion about the ins and outs of workshopping one's work.

Leigh Kimmel at Capricon XV One of the things that really stuck in my mind was her comment that one should never stop workshopping one's stories. It's easy to think that workshopping is something for beginning writers which can be dispensed with as one makes the transition to professional. But Nancy Kress points out that even top-level pros meet each year for the Sycamore Hill workshop, a week-long critiquing session in which they go over one another's work intensely, pulling apart all the flaws and weaknesses so that the writer can then rewrite them better than ever.

Other pointers on workshopping which were brought up in the course of the panel discussion included the often-repeated necessity to address the work and not the author and to note the strengths of the work as well as the weaknesses (so that the writer knows what s/he is doing right and won't "fix" those things away). Major points to know and consider in the process of examining a work for a critique include the character and plot, whether the work contains the right scenes in the right order, whether the factual details are correct and the fictional details are consistent with them and with one another and overall writing style, grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage, and the general flow of the writing).

On Sunday we had a hands-on workshopping session in which we formed a circle and one person read the first five pages of his/her story, then had the other members go around the circle and make comments on the sample. Each person got a turn to be the reader, but after a couple people had gone we decided we had so many members that the only way to get everyone an opportunity to have their story critiqued was to break up into two smaller circles. This meant that each person got critiques from only half the group, but that was better than having some people not be able to get their works critiqued at all.

Another useful session was "Murder and Mayhem for the Writer," a two-hour class run by weapons expert David Crawford. It was pretty intense and at times graphic, but this class gave one a solid grounding in concepts of conventional and unconventional fighting techniques. David Crawford also pointed up a number of the most common misconceptions about weapons and fighting, including a number that have been perpetuated by badly-researched films. In addition he suggested a number of books that can serve as resources for writers, some available at the typical bookstore (such as Deadly Doses and other reference sources for mystery writers) and others available only through special order (such as the Department of Defense manuals).

There was also a panel discussion on Free-lance Writing, led by Jody Lynn Nye. Much of it concentrated on the business end of writing, and in particular the question of when one can count one's writing as a business for tax purposes and how to record one's expenses so as to have a solid record if the tax man should come to call. However there was also discussion of the need for budgeting one's expenditures, scheduling one's writing time and controlling interruptions (if one is to live on one's writing, one must treat it as a job and not a hobby for "spare" time) and the necessity of having a social life outside of writing when it's very tempting to shut oneself away. Also all the panelists agreed on the necessity of keeping other job skills intact in case one needs to go back to punch-the-timeclock work (although in these days when job security is a thing of the past, it'sprobably good advice for everyone to keep enough flexibility that they can take other lines of work if their own cash cow turns over and dies).

In addition there were the usual attractions of a con -- dealer's room, con suite and art show. This is a big art show, so it might not be the best place for a first-time artist to exhibit, but for someone with some experience there is a good match between supply and demand (unlike some of the smaller cons where there are large numbers of very good pieces but only a few buyers so that most artists wind up taking their materials backhome). The art auction at a Capricon is one of the more lively ones, and can be an entertaining way to spend a few hours on Saturday evening even if one isn't intending to buy. There are also room parties for those who are the partying sort. A number of other cons hold parties here in order to publicize their cons. This is how I met up with the people holding ChambanaCon, a small relaxacon in my area.

Capricon is one of the larger and older Chicago area cons, which means that it has a large number of activities and a well-established art show. It can be overwhelming for the first-time congoer, but it can also be exhillarating. Keep one's pocket program close at hand to avoid missing out on things, and it can also be a very enjoyable experience.

Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel

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Last updated October 21, 2012.